Keynote speakers

Thursday Aug 28 - 09:15-10:15
Carolyn Marvin
Youth and the Temptations of the Sacred

Three modes of exploring the sacred comprise our point of departure. Call them the ontic, the anthropological and the sociological. Each projects a distinctive observer position, different obligations of belief and contrasting ethical responsibilities for navigating spiritual meaning and practice. Each offers important insights about our responses to some of the deepest questions of life. The sociological can help us understand how youthful passions construct and engage the fractured accessible sacred the West feels most at home with. From this perspective, the ontic sacred yields rich communal rewards. It contains significant perils as well. Consider Slender Man, an Internet bogeyman with a youthfully inclined following that sustains him as a spooky popular culture meme. Despite the playfully supernatural presentation of Slender Man in the imaginings of his fans, three 12-year-old US girls embraced him as believers, with dire consequences.  At first glance, this is a cautionary tale about how the de novo mythoi of the young require supervision from an ethical discipline of experience like those found in institutionally elaborated traditions of belief. But youthful belief in an ungrounded mythic sacred alerts us to something more unsettling. Even well-honed traditions of the national or religious sacred are beset with potentially ruinous temptations of exclusivity and sacrifice against which followers and observers must be constantly vigilant. In this respect, youthful impulses toward the sacred are not so much separate from other forms of sacred belief as they are usefully instructive about them.

Carolyn Marvin, PhD, is the Frances Yates Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. Her work centers around the relationship between cultural discourses and what they run up against or are limited by, including the human body, material space, and social boundaries. She also has an interest in the related areas of ritual communication and freedom of expression. (Please visit Professor Marvin's website for more information.)

Thursday Aug 28 - 17:30-18:30
Clive Marsh
Sonic Piety: Why theology has to pay attention to what popular music is doing (and vice versa)

This lecture will draw on the work undertaken in theology/religion and popular culture generally (e.g., Ostwalt, Johnston, Detweiler and Taylor, Romanowski, Lynch, Cobb), and on popular music in particular (e.g., Sylvan, Gilmour, Keuss, Scharen, Taylor, Beaudoin, Till, Marsh & Roberts, Partridge) to assess how the two worlds relate. Whilst adopting a dialogical perspective, the lecture will seek to resist any lazy ventriloquism, according to which theology second-guesses what popular music is doing/might do for theology. Using insights from empirical study of music-users, as well as critical reflection drawn from many academic disciplines, the nature of the challenge issued to theology by music-listening practice will be identified and explored. In the face of the severity of the (ethical, transgressive) challenge the paper will nevertheless argue that theological discourses have a role to play in constructive engagement with popular music’s contemporary social, moral and political functions. In contributing to identity construction, to ritual practice, and in inviting exploration of connectedness, embodiedness and transcendence, popular music does not simply encourage the plundering or profaning of theological discourses. It creates a context in society in which the question of how values are carried and traditions continue to be shaped to which theology cannot but contribute. What that contribution might be, what the interaction might do to theology itself, and how popular culture and its reception might also benefit, form the substance of this lecture.

Clive Marsh is Director of Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester. He has been exploring the interplay between theology, religion and the arts/popular culture for over 20 years. Alongside works of theology such as Christ in Focus: Radical Christocentrism in Christian Theology (SCM Press 2005) and Christ in Practice: A Christology of Everyday Life (DLT 2006), he has published Cinema and Sentiment: Film’s Challenge to Theology (Paternoster 2004) and Theology Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Critical Christian Thinking (Routledge 2007). His most recent work (with Vaughan S. Roberts) is Personal Jesus: How Popular Music Shapes Our Souls (Baker Academic 2012). (Please visit Dr Clive Marsh's website for more information.)

Friday Aug 29 - 09:00-10:00
Matt Hills
Keeping Faith(s): Liquid Modernity and Multiple Rituals of Media Fandom

Influential work in sociology has dubbed contemporary consumerism an instance of “liquid modernity” (Bauman 2000 and 2005). By this, Zygmunt Bauman means to critique a world where cultural affiliations have become fleeting and “disposable”, aligned with the vagaries of fashion (Bauman 2011). Consumer choices are supposedly rapidly superseded in an accelerating whirl of planned obsolescence focused on an ever-contracting ‘present’ (Rosa 2013). Scholars have begun to explore “liquid fandom” (Best 2013) as part of this culture, its “imaginary” communities offering intensity and enthusiasm without lasting commitment. In this presentation, I want to consider the extent to which fandom can be read as a resistance not to media producers’ interests per se – as fan studies has long suggested – but rather to the conditions of “liquid” culture. For a number of scholars, fandom has thereby represented “neoreligiosity” (Hills 2002), “a kind of religion” (Wilson 2013: 177), or a “para-religion” (Ward 2011), becoming a life-long, “enduring” sacralisation of specific media texts (Kuhn 2002; Stevenson 2009; Harrington and Bielby 2010). However, this process calls into question Durkheimian accounts of sacredness which rely on a concept of the sacred “centre” in media culture (Couldry 2003), given that both fan-generated rituals (Sumiala 2013:75—6) and the centrality of fandom for fannish produsers tend to produce multiple sacred forms (Lynch 2014: 49) whose interplay requires analysis. It is not necessarily “scholarship as fandom” that’s needed (Beaudoin 2008 and 2009) to unpack the sacralisations of media fandom resisting “liquid life”; it is, rather, “public spheres of imagination” (Saler 2012) whose affective-discursive operation (Wetherell 2012), modern enchantment, and very multiplicity we need to consider most urgently. Approaching fan identities as singular (i.e. one is a fan of ‘X’) might make television (or other media) look more like “religion” (Rothenbuhler 1998), but this equation misses the mash-ups, crossovers and transmedia that sections of today’s youth-cultural fandoms are concerned with, as well as the way in which fans now move between, navigate and negotiate multiple sacred forms.

Matt Hills is Professor of Film and TV Studies at Aberystwyth University, Wales. He is the author of Fan Cultures (2002) and Triumph of a Time Lord (2010) among other scholarly titles, and has studied media fandom for over a decade. His most recent work on fans has been published in the Journal of Fandom Studies, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, the Journal of Science Fiction Film and Television, Participations: The Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, and the Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures. He has also contributed to edited collections such as Fan Culture: Theory/Practice, Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, and the forthcoming Ashgate Research Companion to Fan Cultures, as well as writing Forewords to Paul Booth’s Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who and Mark Duffett’s Understanding Fandom. His latest book is the edited collection New Dimensions of Doctor Who, published last year, and he’s currently working on a new monograph – Sherlock: Detecting Quality Television. (Please visit Professor Hills' website for more information.)


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